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A CurtainUp Review
What I cannot create, I do not understand
--- Richard Feynman
QED at Lincoln Center

Alan Alda
Alan Alda as Richard Feynmanr
(Photo: Craig Schwartz)
Alan Alda's conviction that physicist Richard Feynman's story would make a good play was shared by Peter Parnell. The biodrama Parnell created, and in which Alda subsequently starred i has been endorsed by audiences in Los Angeles and in New York. In fact, when QED moved into the Vivian Beaumont last October its Sunday and Monday night performances sold out immediately. The show closed on December 17th, to make way for Barbara Cook, and now has returned for another run (through May 13th). While Alda has said Feynman is to interesting -- or as the stage Feynman pronounces it in-ter-est-ing -- he is the big draw. Feynman was a charismatic figure and so is Alda. Besides having Alda to play the man he so memorably portrayed in Los Angeles, the Lincoln Center production also has the same director and design team. The only change is in the role of the student who appears periodically is Kellie Oberbey who plays her part admirably, but does not alter the fact that this is basically a solo show.
Having recently seen the show for myself, I was, like Laura and the audience charmed by Alda. He captures Feynman's contagious enthusiasm and curiosity. An unanticipated difference between watching the play in Los Angeles and in New York is that interim events brought a chilling resonance to Feynman's talk about Ground Zero and its aftermath as part of his Los Alamos recollections. Our identification with the contemplation of death that hovers over the two hours is also more immediate. In the final analysis QED lacks the focus and dramatic heft of Proof and Copenhagen, but it does offer an opportunity to spend two hours with a fascinating man brought back to life by the ingratiating and talented Alan Alda.

Playwright: Peter Parnell
Director: Gordon Davidson
Cast: Alan Alda (Richard Feynman), Kelly Overbey (Miriam Field)
Set Design: Ralph Funicello
Costume Design: Marianna Elliott
Lighting Design: D. Martyn Bookwalter
Sound Design: Jon Gottlieb
Movement: Donald McKayle
Creative consultant: Ralph Leightonr
Running Time: 2 hours and 15 minutes, including intermission
Vivian Beaumont 150 W. 65th St.. 239-6200
From 10/21/01-12/07/01; re-opening 2/17/02-5/13/02
Sundays and Mondays at 7:30 pm -- $60-40
Extended to June 10th!

---Our Original Los Angeles Review by Laura Hitchcock

"This is so interesting," is the mantra of physicist Richard Feynman's life, a depiction he uses repeatedly in the play QED and, glory be, one that can be applied with jubilation to the play, the production and the performance of Alan Alda as Feynman.

Plays about fascinating people don't always succeed in being dramatic but playwright Peter Parnell and director Gordon Davidson, with Alda, have solved the problem here. Alda, a lifelong science buff, suggested the project to Davidson who brought in Parnell, the adapter of John Irving's The Cider House Rules for the Taper.

Inspired by Feynman's writings and Ralph Leighton's biographical volume Tuva or Bust!, Parnell spearheaded the trio through half a dozen versions until arriving at the two-hander which made its world premiere this month at the Mark Taper Forum. QED stands for Feynman's formula for Quantum Electro Dynamics, describing the interactions involving light and also for Quod Erat Demonstradum (That Proves It).

The play is set in 1986 in Feynman's office at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena on a night in which he's preparing to play the bongo drums in a stage performance; working on a lecture; fielding phone calls from students, visiting Russians, doctors with ominous news about his spreading cancer; and, not surprisingly, enjoying an unscheduled visit from a beautiful girl who shares his passion for physics, music and the joy of living.

In the course of the evening we hear about his first job at Los Alamos, including his reaction to the first atomic bomb detonation and his sideline as a lockpicker to show personnel how lax their security was; his playful spin of a plate in a cafeteria that led to his work on the spin of electrons and the 1965 Nobel Prize; his Lectures on Physics, which he called his most lasting contribution.

Most of all, we get a sense of how much fun it would be to be Feynman, a dynamic Renaissance man whose charisma stems from his fascination with every aspect of life and where the smallest facet can lead.

Parnell's choices illuminate the bright side of Feynman, making the evening feel more like a celebratory tribute than a portrait. That may be why he doesn't escape Act II Sag. However, Parnell deftly weaves his facts into the fabric of Feynman's exuberant, funny, captivating personality and Davidson astutely presents his life as a work in progress. We see the extremes of a man who loved women but whose spirituality is displayed in the letter to his long dead first wife that ends""I don't know your new address. " He is a scientist whose morality ranged from working on the atomic bomb to exposing NASA's disregard of a warning that resulted in the explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger. The play ends with Feynman making a decision about an operation which may end or affect the quality of his life -- and then continuing to talk on the phone, eagerly probing the astonishment of living.

Allison Smith, a pretty slip of a girl with a great gutsy belly laugh, plays Miriam, the insistent student. But it's Alda's night. Something of a Renaissance man himself -- with awards for acting, writing and directing -- he's instigated and created the role of a lifetime. He gets the humor, the vitality, the joie de vivre and, above all, Feynman's continued fascination with the universe as a journey.

Reviewed at the Mark Taper Forum on March 21, 2001
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